Blu-ray Review: Frankie and Johnny (1966)

A few months after turning thirty in January of 1965, Elvis Presley started filming on Frankie and Johnny, inspired by the old folk song of the same name, that’s been attributed to several songwriters over the years. Less than a decade earlier, Presley had been the epitome of cool, and rebellion, causing a sensation when his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show had to be filmed from the waste up because of the sexual suggestiveness of his gyrating hips. Now, with the British invasion in full swing, Frankie and Johnny, with its simplistic story and Dixieland soundtrack, must have seemed outdated even then.

Elvis plays Johnny, a singer on the riverboat Mississippi Queen, who performs with his girlfriend (Donna Douglas, The Beverly Hillbillies). Their relationship is strained because Johnny has a gambling addiction.  Advised by a gypsy fortune teller that he’ll find good luck with a red-headed woman, he goes out to find one…and does, (with some help from his piano playing sidekick, Cully (Harry Morgan), in the shapely form of Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovack), the captain’s girl…Predictably, it’s not long before Johnny has much more than just Frankie to contend with.

In truth, there’s not much of a plot here, but no matter. Clearly, the flimsy story was simply a means to connect eleven musical numbers – the perfect number for another Elvis Presley album. Director Frederick de Cordova had been a director in Hollywood of little acclaim, and mostly low budget films when he was hired to direct Frankie and Johnny (His last. In 1970, De Cordova became producer/director of The Tonight Show: Starring Johnny Carson). Previously, Presley had worked with accomplished directors including Michael Curtiz on Kid Creole (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce) and Don Siegel on Flaming Star.

While Elvis had begun to fill out, he still looked fairly youthful. For fans of the M*A*S*H TV series among us, (I know there are a lot of you out there!) Colonel Potter himself, Harry Morgan, does a fine job proving some comic moments as Johnny’s buddy Cully. As I indicated earlier, Frankie and Johnny is more reminiscent of the ‘50s than the ’60s, but realism was never the goal in any Elvis movie. The story is paper thin, but if you like The King’s music, have at it!

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is the best I’ve ever seen this film. While the image isn’t quite up to present day standards (occasional loss of detail in mid-range shots us in evidence), the bright, super-saturated color palette of retro yellow, blues, and reds are on full display. Faces look realistic throughout much of the film, with the exception of a time or two when a slightly reddish quality can be seen. The image itself is good, with only a couple of small scratches.

The mono soundtrack sounds as good as it possibly can. Obviously, the folks originally responsible for the soundtrack knew that Presley’s music was the main attraction here, and did what they could to make it sound as good as possible. Along with that, dialogue is clean, clear, and concise, and effects are well balanced.

English subtitles are included.

There are no extras available.

Movie title: Frankie and Johnny (1966)

Director(s): Frederick De Cordova

Actor(s): Elvis Presley , Donna Douglas , Harry Morgan , Sue Ane Langdon, Nancy Kovack , Robert Strauss

Genre: Musical , Romance, Comedy

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